Anything you say on social media can be used against you in an attempted hoax — that’s the message authorities seek to deliver to parents and their children in light of fake-kidnapping scam attempts in the area.
Last Wednesday, Jan. 25, Rosemont Middle School Principal Cynthia Livingston sent out a robocall and an email to all of her La Crescenta school families warning of a scam involving fake kidnapping threats.
According to Glendale Unified School District spokesperson Kristine Nam, a Rosemont Middle School parent received a call last week from someone claiming to have kidnapped the family’s child. The parent immediately called the school and confirmed that the child was safe, Nam said in an email.
“The Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station has recently received several reported scams of kidnapping for ransom that have targeted our students and parents,” the emailed alert from the principal read. “The callers typically have personal information on the family to convince the victims through fear and urgency and demand ransom payment.
“As a preventive measure, please be mindful of what personal information you or your child post on social media along with good communication between you and your children.”
There was a similar incident at Rosemont in November, Nam said, adding that the L.A. County Office of Education has reported similar occurrences over the past few years.
“Our message to parents is to call their school office immediately to confirm that their child is safe on campus if they receive a kidnapping call,” Nam said. “Also, report the incident to the police/sheriff’s department.”
Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Capt. Bill Song wasn’t aware of details of any fake-kidnapping claim since earlier in the academic year, when he said there was a pair targeting families in La Crescenta. Nonetheless, he cautioned residents to follow the principal’s advice by immediately alerting authorities if such a situation arises.
“Please contact us and try not to research it yourself,” Song said. “We have very experienced investigators, department-wide, who will investigate and make sure it’s not a scam — and if it’s legitimate, they know how to handle that too. You don’t want to do this by yourself.”
Song said on one occasion last fall, someone emailed a threat to a family that was along the lines of: “Hey, drop off this amount of money and harm won’t come to this family member.”
“It was a complete hoax,” according to Song, who said the major crimes bureau was quickly alerted and sent out to investigate the ransom request, which “turned out to be nothing, a scam.”
The second scam attempt was successful, Song said.
“The other one was a phone call saying, ‘Hey, we need this amount of money transferred to this account,’” Song said. “And instead of calling us, they did it. And later, they called the family member, who said, ‘I’m perfectly fine.’ They lost the money.”
Song said he didn’t recall the specific amount that was requested in either case, but advised that most scams request in the range of $4,000-$5,000 dollars, and usually less than $10,000.
Like Livingston, he cautioned against sharing too much personal information online.
“Our kids, they put so much stuff out there about themselves,” Song said. “So someone could claim, ‘I know you have a brother and sister and such-and-such a dog and I know where you live.’ That’s easily available information, especially through social media.”
Wendy Sinnette, superintendent at La Cañada Unified School District, also encouraged parents at her schools to reach out if any of them ever receives a ransom request.
“If a family was victimized this way, I would encourage them to inform us and law enforcement,” she wrote in an email, “so that together we can provide multi-layered support.”